Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Aretha's Hat

Wasn't that a thing?

A millenary confection in grey felt, glittering with rhinestones, trimmed in black grosgrain. My. Oh my.

I'm hearing from white friends who thought it was, well, tacky and overdone. I think they missed the point entirely.

Aretha's hat was a full-on diva crown, in the best African-American Sunday Suit tradition.

Hats are tremendously symbolic in the AA community, with a whole lore surrounding them. In traditional black churches, you don't show up on Sunday without your crown -- the sartorial sign of the nobility of black women. You may clean hotel rooms or sling hash in a crummy uniform six days a week; but on the seventh day, your church hat puts the world on notice that you are nonetheless a beloved daughter of God.

That (well, that plus the bitter cold) is why you've been seeing so many men and women wearing them to inauguration events over the past few days. In black culture, hats are still an important mode of self-expression, and a potent statement of respect for yourself and the event you're gracing with your presence.

I was halfway hoping Michelle would make a nod to that tradition, and sport some fabulous headwear of her own. No such luck: she's more modern than that. But Aretha's showstopping topper more than took up the slack.

And it also may have been the first sign of an emerging fashion trend. It's entirely possible that with African America finally Having Arrived -- as of today -- that the love of a great hat will finally make its way back out into the larger culture.

You read it here first. Love that hat or hate it, you're going to see more of them.